Chalk Talk: Meet the 81st MDG chief

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Duncan McElroy
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
(This interview is Part 2 of an open-ended series featuring question-and-answer sessions with members of Team Keesler.)

I'm still learning my way around the Keesler Medical Center. I can navigate my way to the fifth floor command section and the Hungry Dragon Dining Facility. Beyond that, I'm lost. Luckily, Chief Master Sgt. Karl Day's office is on the fifth floor.

It seems I'm not the only one who gets turned around. After our interview, Day and I went down to the emergency room to look at the ambulances. That hospital is like a labyrinth. If a helpful master sergeant hadn't shown us the way back out, we could have ended up wandering around for a while. It looks like both of us need to brush up on our hospital directions.

Day is formerly the aerospace medicine functional manager for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. He arrived at Keesler at the beginning of March for an assignment as the 81st Medical Group's superintendent.

So Chief, why did you join the Air Force?

I grew up in the Air Force -- my dad is a retired senior master sergeant. I graduated from Royal Air Force Lakenheath High School, England and got my first job there as a weight room instructor until my brother graduated the next year. After that, we moved to Dover, Delaware. I realized there really wasn't much to do in Dover, so I went to the recruiter with my dad and signed up. I've loved every minute of it since.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I always thought I'd be a fireman . . . that didn't quite work out. The Air Force was really all I knew, so when I joined I just wanted to be the best Airman I could possibly be. I joined at a time when there were supposedly no guaranteed jobs, but my recruiter said he could get me an administration job. Before I went in, that got changed to a medical job, though, and I've been doing that ever since.

Do you have a favorite place you've been stationed?

I suppose it'd have to be the Gulf Coast. Before Ramstein, I was at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Eglin was great, and Keesler is like a hidden gem. You have the beaches, great seafood and the people are really nice around here. I'm really impressed with the base and Biloxi.

Tell me about some of the jobs you've done as an aerospace medicine technician.

The diversity is one of the great things about our career field. I've had a chance to work in the ER, immunizations, intensive care unit, medical surgery, as an NCO in charge of education and training, and an independent duty medical technician- I've never turned down an opportunity to try something different.

That, in turn, has given me lots of experience and knowledge and keeps things fresh. There's nothing boring about being in this field. You can always move to different areas.

Okay, so what's been your favorite?

I'm kind of an adrenaline junkie, so I really enjoyed working in the ER and intensive care unit. Those were some of my favorite assignments. The autonomy you have working one-on-one with a nurse in the ICU was amazing. You get to do a lot more advanced stuff than in other assignments.

Having someone's life in your hands and being able to help them is a great feeling. If it's hard to do, critical to the mission and demanding, that's where I want to be.

What have your deployments been like?

I've been deployed a few times as an independent duty medical technician, and I've enjoyed every one. I have fun wherever I'm at; I just had to make the best of it whether I'm in Afghanistan, Asia or Africa.

I could be in a tent with 18 guys shaving our heads with mustache trimmers because we don't have a barber shop, or maybe in Cairo, Egypt, with a pool and the pyramids in the distance. I'm going to work hard, have fun and make the most of it.

You learn a lot about yourself on a deployment, and you grow a lot.

Time for a tough question: What has been your greatest accomplishment? What are you most proud of?

(Hesitantly) I guess what I'm most proud of is my whole career. I've learned a lot along the way, and I've failed a lot. But through all that, I've been able to help other Airmen. The most rewarding thing is that legacy you leave behind, when the Airmen you've worked with will contact you down the road in your career. It's that lasting impression I cherish most about my time in the service.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, what's been a challenge for you? How did you overcome it?

I think you hear this talked about a lot, but balance. We talk about completing the mission, being the best leader, taking care of your people and putting 100 percent into that, but there's also the part where you need to take care of your family, too. Personal versus professional, you know?

I've been a travel soccer coach for my son's team for a few years now; it's about just doing the best you can. If coaching means I need to go to the office at 4 a.m. to get some work done, I'll do it. Finding that even keel takes work, but it's worth it.

What do you hope to impart on the Airmen of the Medical Group during your time here?

Every leader is different; we all have our own way of motivating Airman. My goal is simple: I want to challenge every Airman to be the best at whatever job they do here. Make their organization or duty section better than how they came into it. I walk around this hospital and I'm already really impressed with what I see. What I hope is that these Airmen take ownership of their careers and duty sections and make them absolutely outstanding.

Who do you look up to?

I've had numerous mentors throughout my career, but my father has been the one I'm always able to fall back on. Even though the Air Force I'm in is very different than the Air Force he was in, it's always nice to hear his thought process.

Now, I will tell you, I learn something new almost every single day from one of my Airmen. I like to go down into the 'trenches' to get their perspective and learn their stories because to me they're the ones who are going through it right now. Every day, from an Airman to the top leader, I'm always learning something new.

If it's a tough question though, something I'm struggling with, I'll pawn it off on my dad and get his thoughts on it.

Do you have any chiefly advice for those of us that want to be a chief one day?

Chiefly advice, that's funny. I would say to just be the best you can be. Every day I look at myself in the mirror and say 'Did you work as hard as you could today?' I live by that, you know? I believe in taking care of my Airmen. When you take care of people, they'll take care of you. It goes back to that lasting legacy.

Whatever job you do, just be the best at it. I didn't think I'd ever become a chief. Work hard and take care of people and the promotions will come.

Last question: What's your favorite aircraft?

That's a good one; I like the F-15 Eagle. It's versatile. It can be a bomber, a striker or a fighter. The F-35 Lightning is pretty cool but definitely the F-15.